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ARTE NOIR EDITORIAL

THE LION TAKES THE STAGE

Seattle-based storyteller and arts leader Sharon Nyree Williams brings us a preview of the world premiere of The Lion Tells His Tale, written by Vida Oliphant Sneed based on Delbert Richardson's award-winning American History Traveling Museum: The "Unspoken" Truths, produced and presented by Intiman Theatre. The production runs May 1st through 5th at Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle.


A multi-generational cast of Black actors poses together in the dressing room of a theatre
Cast photo for The Lion Tells His Tale at Intiman Theatre

"When my ancestor Harriet Tubman looked up she saw the North Star. How do we get back to love? Vida’s play is my North Star." Delbert Richardson


I’ve had an opportunity to sit in a lot of rehearsals for theater productions. I appreciate the setting where the words begin to come off the page and into the bodies of the cast. For example, the location today seems to be just a simple basement with tape on the floor, items around the room, a few people sitting at the table, and me, their guest. The process has started and that the work is being done. Visions are manifesting, commitments have been made, and in the next few weeks, something that started in the hearts and minds of a group of people will come together and be presented on a stage for an audience to see. As I’m escorted down the hallway, my curiosity is rising and my eagerness to be a wandering eye in this particular rehearsal space is heightened to one thousand percent. 


The Lion Tells His Tale featuring Delbert Richardson’s American History Traveling Museum: The “Unspoken” Truths, is officially up on its feet. The actors are spread around the room. Seattle royalty playwright, Vida Oliphant Sneed, and her husband, the director, Steve Sneed are sitting at different tables leading the process. And the man himself, Delbert Richardson; community scholar, second-generation storyteller, and what Richardson considers himself to be—an Ethnomuseumologist, a bit of a mash-up intersecting ethnography and museology—finds his way around the makeshift stage to join us. The opportunity to bring this work to life has been made possible by the leadership of Intiman Theatre Artistic Director Jennifer Zeyl and its Managing Director Wesley Frugé as part of Intiman’s 50th Anniversary season.


The premiere of The Lion Tells His Tale is May 1, 2024, running only 4 days. Ensemble member, Faith Bennett Russell describes the show as, the birth of this museum, and the characters support the story of a young Delbert taking us on his journey of discovery of self, of his Black self, of his Black roots, and our characters come [alongside] and help amplify and tell that story through word, through music, and dance." This production is meant to be a multi-generational experience for the community and by the community. It is not lost on the creators that everyone will learn something. 


“This is not art for [art] sake….,” says actor, Erwin E. A. Thomas. “This is medicine for right now”.


No one involved with the telling of this story could have imagined that the timing for this production would be as vital as it is right now in this moment in American history. In case you haven’t heard, there is an attack on telling the truth about Black history in America. This is nothing new but it has been heightened around the country; although we like to think that here in Seattle we are immune to such thinking. The impact is being felt throughout the world. If you want to become more informed, I’ll name a few things for you to research; the banning of books, restricting what schools can teach about race and racism, the banning and defunding of DEI programs (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), and much more. 


Sitting around the table and speaking with the playwright Vida Oliphant Sneed, director Steve Sneed, and the storyteller/muse Delbert Richardson, I feel a sense of pride and joy as they speak about their journey in bringing the piece to the stage. They will tell you this play isn’t political and it isn’t about racism. The Lion Tells His Tale is about humanity and telling the truth. This show is intergenerational and multidimensional bridges of family, of community, of story, of activism, of the cultivation of brilliance,” says Rajnii Eddins who portrays Justin, Imhotep, and contributes to the ensemble. Originally from Seattle, Rajnii draws upon his experience as a Spoken Word Poet/Emcee and Teaching artist for over 30 years. For artists like Rajnii and the Young Storyteller character played by DeeJay Brown, this experience is what being a part of the Black community has always been about. It’s what Vida calls the Ripple Effect.   


The collaboration between the cast and crew is about being vulnerable and the willingness to bring to life Delbert’s story and the stories he has been sharing for over nineteen years with his traveling museum. According to Steve Sneed, “The first act is the story portion and the second act is the museum portion.


No matter how we as audience members enter the space, you must know that “This story is true, it needs to be known, it needs to be told and it needs to be seen, examined, and absorbed. So we are all better equipped to be humans”, adds Vida. Access to learning and experiencing art in our daily lives is a profound privilege. Just as Harriet Tubman was able to lead our ancestors to freedom with the guidance of the North Star…then seeing The Lion Tells His Tale, “...will be nothing but growth and a push forward not only in myself but in our community as a whole and in whoever comes to see it,” humbly expressed by Antonio Mitchell who plays Miles and contributes to the ensemble.


After spending time with the cast and crew at rehearsal, I left the building that day feeling truly inspired, and once again reminded of the transformative power of collaborative art. As I reflect on this experience, I wonder how I’m going to feel after witnessing the full production. What new emotions and insights will The Lions Tells His Tale manifest in me?  


To learn more about the production and cast, and to buy your tickets, visit Intiman.org!



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